Justice Sought in Croteau Case

By Buffy Spencer
The Republican
February 23, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - Investigators have worked persistently during the past 35 years to find the killer of altar boy Daniel Croteau, but have been thwarted at every turn by a lack of physical evidence to link a suspect to the crime, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said.

"We tried every DNA test you can think of," Bennett said at a press conference yesterday. "Every time we go down a particular path we come up empty."

"Lack of physical evidence was a problem early on. It is a problem now," said Bennett, who maintained the 1972 killing of the 13-year-old Springfield boy remains an open case for state police investigators assigned to his office.

The press conference came in response to this week's release of more than 100 pages of documents involving the Croteau investigation. Bennett, whose office picked up the investigation from his predecessor, former District Attorney Matthew J. Ryan Jr., said every investigator who tracked the case wanted to hold someone accountable for the boy's killing.

Daniel Croteau was found bludgeoned to death on the bank of the Chicopee River on April 15, 1972. The only suspect publicly identified was Richard R. Lavigne, a now-defrocked priest whom family members and friends said had a close and complicated relationship with Croteau.

The 115 pages of documents were released as the result of a ruling by Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini in a civil case between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and its insurance carriers, which are resisting paying for settlements with victims of clergy abuse - many of whom say Lavigne molested them.

Lawyers for Lavigne have vehemently denied he was involved. They sent out a press release earlier this year titled "Richard Lavigne did not murder Daniel Croteau" when the boy's parents held a press conference to discuss the judge's order to unseal the documents.

Bennett said his office argued successfully to have the names of witnesses and victims be redacted or obscured with black ink so that they would not become public. He said potential witnesses to a crime must know their identities will be protected during an investigation if they give information to the authorities.

Asked if the Croteau investigation is still active, he said there is little new information coming forward. If new information is found it will be investigated, he said.

Bennett said his review of the investigation after the murder led him to conclude that investigators had tried hard to solve the case in the 1970s.

In the documents released this week, one witness told police in 2004 she had seen a boy in a yellow rain coat lying beneath the bridge where Croteau's body was found. A priest was standing over him, she said.

Her statement recounts the encounters with then-Bishop Christopher J. Weldon and then-District Attorney Ryan.

The witness told police that Weldon threatened to excommunicate her father, and that Ryan told her there was no evidence to support her claim. Ryan, according to the woman's statement, said he could arrest her for filing a false report if she pursued her claims.

Yesterday, Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the Springfield diocese, said, "Diocesan legal counsel has reviewed the witness statement which alleges involvement by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon. There are a number of notable discrepancies in this witness' statement relative to dates and circumstances which call into question its overall reliability."

"We maintain complete confidence that the office of the district attorney and state police would have pursued this matter had it been deemed credible," Dupont said.

The Croteau family, meanwhile, said they would ask state officials, including Gov. Deval L. Patrick and Attorney General Martha M. Coakley, for a new independent investigation.

"All we want is justice and the truth. The family has been hurt for a long time," said Carl E. Croteau, 76, last month when Agostini's decision was announced.


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